Why are you travelling to Kosovo SOLO? I had heard this question only too many times in the weeks before I finally visited the last of the western Balkan countries unknown to me. Now, after coming back I have only too many answers and it frustrates me I can’t reply in one sentence and sum up all the amazing experiences I had there.
I spent a whole week in Kosovo. It’s not that much but enough to see a little bit of this tiny country. If you’re considering visiting Kosovo or the bordering countries, such as Albania, Montenegro or Macedonia, this post might help you create or modify your itinerary to accommodate Kosovo on your list.
Kosovo stole my heart like no other country for a long time. I am still wondering: is Kosovo that great or was it my attitude?
After some break from solo travel, I missed being on the road alone a lot; I missed the spontaneity and unexpectedness that goes along with solo travel, I even missed all the strangers I knew I was going to meet soon. The day before my flight, I felt “wanderlust as fuck”, my introvert part has dissolved into thin air and I had only one rule to follow: TALK TO PEOPLE. ALWAYS.
Although I made absolutely no plans, no bookings, no commitments, I did some research before going to Kosovo. As always, I like to know my options but I prefer to wait with making the decisions until the last moment. There were only two places I was sure I wanted to visit: the Accursed Mountains and Pristina. All the other places “just happened” when I followed the advice of people I met in Kosovo.
The first choice crystallised in my head quite naturally: I LOVE HIKING and setting challenges to myself. As you know, I was visiting the gym quite frequently in the recent months and I wanted to see if this fitness commitment did any good. (spoiler: it did!)
Pristina was also a natural choice: I wanted to confront what I heard about Pristina while I was in Albania; and I heard it’s an uninteresting and ugly place where I would get only too many uneasy looks. Each time I hear an opinion said with a voice suggesting it’s a fact, I get suspicious and want to check for myself. Thank god I did that this time as well, because Pristina stole my heart completely and became one of my most favourite capitals in Europe. Never ever listen when someone says “it’s not worth visiting XYZ”, just go and see for yourself.
So, what’s there in Kosovo that you should not miss? Check out this mini Kosovo travel guide.
Solo travel in Kosovo – Day 1: Pristina – the lively and young capital of Kosovo
What happened on day 1 in Kosovo completely exceeded my expectations. I found myself in a vibrant, outgoing, quirky, coffee-loving, relatively clean city full of atmospheric cafes, dusty street book stands, war hero monuments dressed in Albanian flags, angular, domineering, gloomy buildings (which I loved), and, finally, open and friendly people. I wanted to take this day slow, see a bit of the city, try the famous macchiato and eat Elbasan.
I ended up drinking more coffee than I normally do, talking to people randomly met at restaurants and on the streets whom I later met again after a few days when Pristina became my jumping base for other cities. I also happened to drink Kosovo beer during the Beer Fest in a very good company. It also dawned on me that there are plenty of things to do in Pristina and I could just as well spend a whole week there and not get bored. If you are into unusual architecture, urban exploration, street life, this is a perfect place for you. If you are into coffee drinking and lazy afternoons, check out the six best cafes in Pristina.
Solo travel in Kosovo – Day 2: Prizren – the postcard-beauty of Kosovo
Prizren has the name of being the prettiest city of Kosovo and it’s hard not to agree with that statement. It’s very Mediterranean. Its old town is quaint and charming, cobbled streets by the Bistrica River floating through the city are full of bustling cafes and restaurants. There’s also a pier at the foot of the main highlight of the city, the fortress, where you can spend nice time drinking coffee or eating dinner full of fresh and good quality vegetables.
If you’re into hiking, there are also plenty of opportunities and I’ll give you some tips and directions in a blog post dedicated only to Prizren. Prizren is also home to one of the most important film festivals in Europe: DokuFest – a festival dedicated to documentary and short films that has worked for its fame for the past years and grown to an event that can’t be missed by artists from all around Europe. I also have to add that the day I spent in Prizren was special due to the fact that I was accompanied by an old friend, Gocha, whom I met almost two years ago while hiking in Albania.
Solo travel in Kosovo – Day 3: Peja – the gate to the Rugova Canyon and the Accursed Mountains
Peja as such didn’t interest me that much, but it’s the gate to the beautiful Rugova Canyon and the Accursed Mountains. This small town is surrounded by beautiful but treacherous mountains and no matter where you go, you can always feel the vicinity of the famous Prokletije. Hiking in the mountains was supposed to be the highlight of this trip for me, so Peja naturally landed on my travel list.
Peja is also the last place in Kosovo where you can still find Albanian families living by the Kanun – an old set of rules relating to honour, hospitality, right conduct and loyalty. As much as e.g. hospitality is a good thing, there’s a lot controversy about its rule of bloody revenge. Peja is also an interesting place due to the fact that it’s mostly inhabited by the Albanians, but there’s a somewhat artificial “neighbourhood” created by the EU where the Serbians live. More on the blog soon.
Read about my hiking experience in the beautiful Rugova Canyon here.
Solo travel in Kosovo – Day 4: Kuciste (Kućište) – a lone hike to the lakes on the border with Montenegro
The more difficult it gets, the more I get determined to carry it out. I really wanted to do some hiking in the mountains, not just around them. However, it wasn’t the easiest thing to organise. Hiring a guide (recommended by nearly everyone I spoke to), was too expensive to my taste, so I decided to figure it out on my own. Without going into much detail now, I can say that this was the day when I left my comfort zones one by one, had some bloody battles with my fear and imagination, learned some valuable lessons and felt so calmly confident at the end of the day that my internal batteries were recharged completely.
Solo travel in Kosov0 – Day 5: Gjakova – the charming capital of artisan Kosovo
I didn’t even know Gjakova existed prior to visiting Kosovo. This place was recommended to me by a secondary school graduate, Gentrina and Dren. We spoke a little on Facebook before I came to Kosovo and, inspired by her enthusiasm about Gjakova, I decided to give it a go. Thanks to that, I could spend a really nice day in a really good company and see every nook and cranny of this small but colourful town.
One of the best moments of this trip was a visit to a local artist, Mimoza Rracit, who creates handmade miracles. I had to really restrain myself from buying half of her exhibition and got away with one necklace only. We also visited a XVI century Hadum Mosque where we had a nice chat with the local imam. I also wouldn’t be myself if I hadn’t looked for a place to admire the panorama of the whole town. Gjakova does it good, because there’s not only a hill, but also a nice restaurant on top of it, Oxygen, where you can eat dinner while enjoying beautiful views.
Read more about Gjakova by clicking here.
Solo travel in Kosovo – Day 6: Mitrovica – the divided city
Mitrovica doesn’t have the best opinion as a travel destination and I have to admit (guilty look) that I was initially slightly uneasy about visiting it. My concerns dispelled once I had already spent some days in Kosovo and saw that what people say about this place and what the reality is doesn’t match. Mitrovica has a very violent and bloody history and it’s still a flashing evidence that Kosovo still has some issues to work through.
This somewhat small city has been divided between the Albanians and the Serbians since 2013. The two completely different parts are divided by a river and to go to the other part, you have to cross a somewhat gloomy bridge. Cars are forbidden to use the bridge, it’s available only to passers-by and dozens of carabinieri guard the place.
In the southern part you feel in Kosovo. After you’ve crossed the bridge, the currency is different, people look different, even architecture is different (orthodox temples replace mosques, for example). As much as this is not the most cheerful thing to see, at least the Albanian part has some good vibes and modern cafes. Needles to say, more on the blog soon.
Solo travel in Kosovo – Day 7: Pristina – socialising in the capital of Kosovo once again
Although I spent the evenings of the past two days in Pristina, I still hadn’t had enough of this place. Therefore, instead of travelling to a new place in Kosovo, I decided to stay in Pristina and enjoy its Saturday atmosphere. I went to many cafes, met with some people I got to know the previous Sunday, lazed about the Newborn monument, drunk a lot of coffee, sat in the sun and enjoyed a little of sunbathing, and thought when shall I come again?
Saturday was also the day of Champions’ League final and the main pier, Mother Theresa boulevard, was just teeming with life. People went to the streets to watch the game in the evening and the atmosphere was really good.
On Sunday morning I had my flight back to Berlin and then a bus to Poznan. Although I was in Kosovo for a week only, I felt so good there I am now trying to fit one more visit to this country into my travel schedule for this year. Obviously, a week is not enough to understand all the challenges this country has to face, but what I saw gave me confidence it’s worth keeping my fingers crossed for its citizens and come back and back again.
What place has made such a lasting impression on you as Kosovo did on me? Where do you like coming back?
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